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Plenty on Baker’s to-do list as Nats manager

Nov 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT

USA Today

Any time a team fires one manager and hires another, many things will need to be fixed. The Nationals remain a deep and impressive roster despite their shortcomings this past season. But after Dusty Baker is introduced on Thursday – barring something unforeseen, as you never know these days – he will need to get to work repairing a team that massively underachieved under Matt Williams in 2015. Here is a look at a few matters he will need to address…

Oversee development of young players

The Nationals have been guided by veterans for the most part in recent years with Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and previously Adam LaRoche standing out as leaders. But this offseason could turn the page to a new era for the Nats with Michael Taylor, Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper expecting to serve as big of roles as any players on the team in 2016. Throw Joe Ross into the rotation and possibly Lucas Giolito, and that’s a large core of young players who are all trying to reach their potential to varying degrees. Harper, of course, doesn’t need to improve at all, but the rest of that group will need to continue developing if they are to be relied on as much as it currently appears they will. Managing the Nationals in 2016 could require a little more patience than has been needed over the last three years or so with inexperience becoming a bigger factor. Harper, by the way, is entering his fifth MLB season, which is pretty amazing.

Repair the clubhouse

In 2015, the Nationals not only fell short of the playoffs, they resorted to backstabbing through anonymous media reports and undermined their manager along the way. That was all in addition to an ugly altercation between Harper and Jonathan Papelbon that was captured on camera for all of us to see. The Papelbon problem will likely be sorted out this offseason in a trade, but questions persist about the Nationals’ ability to handle adversity both on and off the field. Baker will need to bring the team back together and garner the respect of veteran players, most notably Werth, who has had issues with other Nats managers. Baker would seem like the perfect manager for this task, a guy who has the résumé both as a former player and accomplished manager that instantly brings credibility to the clubhouse. It’s hard to question a man who has quite obviously been through more in the game of baseball than many players ever will.

Pick the right coaching staff

Baker’s first order of business this offseason is picking his coaching staff, which could have important implications. For one, Baker’s questionable history dealing with pitchers is well-documented. He is also a former position player and not a former pitcher. Who he hires as his pitching coach will have plenty of responsibility, and he will also have big shoes to fill following Steve McCatty, who is the only pitching coach many Nats pitchers – including Stephen Strasburg – have ever known. The Nationals also had a defensive specialist on staff the previous two seasons and it will be interesting to see if they hire another.

Figure out the defense

As talented as the Nationals are – they boast an elite starting rotation even without Jordan Zimmermann and a strong lineup when healthy – defense could be a major concern in 2015. Whether he plays at second or third base, Yunel Escobar is a below average defensive player. Zimmerman is solid at first, but there is a significant drop-off when he is out with an injury, which is a regular occurrence. Trea Turner will likely play a lot and he has to improve on his 21 errors in 111 minor league games last season. Werth has become a below average outfielder. Wilson Ramos, despite him being named a Gold Glove finalist, has his shortfalls. Add it all up and the Nationals have defensive questions all around. That could change this offseason, depending on what they do to their roster. But it will definitely be something to keep in mind moving forward.

Manage expectations

The Nationals are expected to let several big name players enter free agency, but that doesn’t mean they will not have high hopes for 2016. An impressive core of talent remains on the roster and the front office plans to be more aggressive this offseason than some are giving them credit for. Three years remain on Harper’s contract before he can test free agency and they certainly want to keep him happy. They also signed Max Scherzer to a record deal last winter. With all that in mind, why take a step back and rebuild now? The Nationals are likely to be big players in free agency and trades once again, as they have been for several years running under GM Mike Rizzo. And once their roster is put together, the World Series predictions will naturally follow. How will Baker manage those expectations? We saw how a ‘World Series or bust’ or a ‘where’s my ring?’ comment can come back to haunt them, but playing and leading with confidence is always good. One thing’s for sure, high expectations for a team will be nothing new for Baker, who has been there before plenty of times with other clubs.

  1. iconicwoodencap - Nov 4, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    Questions for the Nats*Insider Cognoscenti:

    1) will Baker’s absence from the sport affect his ability to recruit quality coaches?

    2) Are the Lerner’s likely to nickel and dime his choices, leading to more dysfunction.

    • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:00 AM

      He has only been out for 2 years not 10.
      Your 2nd point is typical of an undeserved negative bias. The Nats offered Black the 6th highest manager’s salary in all of baseball. Hardly nickel and dime stuff.

      • Sonny G 10 - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:29 AM

        I’m glad to hear you say that. I didn’t know that it was the 6th highest manager’s salary. It must have been solely the guaranteed length of contract that was the problem.

      • unkyd59 - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:05 PM

        Here’s the “6th highest” comment, again…. Given that only a handful of teams release manager salary info, how are you making this claim, jd?

      • iconicwoodencap - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:32 PM

        Sorry for the perceived negative bias in question 2. These were honest questions, not predictions or criticism’s (I can see how question 2 sounded that way). I was hoping the answer to both would be a reassuring “no,” and it sounds like you’re not worried about any negative impact of either Baker’s time out of baseball or the Lerner’s spending patterns. Thanks!

      • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 1:20 PM

        unkyd59,

        There are any number of sites who list the top paid managers in baseball. While you are right that many of the teams do not publish their manager’s salaries it is a fair assumption that they avoid publishing not because their manager’s salaries are very high.

        Even if the 6th highest isn’t strictly accurate it is evident that the $1.6 mil offered is not unusually low. It is less than what the top managers are getting paid (Maddon, Scocia, Girardi, Showalter, Francona) but then again I am not sure Black’s track record puts him in that category.

      • unkyd59 - Nov 4, 2015 at 3:02 PM

        Thanks, jd… I agree the reported offer seemed fair, I just wondered if you’d found a more complete list. The media narrative had stuck with how insulting it was, and I was wondering why…

    • ArVAFan - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      FWIW, one of the media guys had a tweet saying Baker’s phone had been ringing off the hook with people wanting to work with him. (I tried looking back through my feed, but there’s just been too many over the past few days, so I can’t give the proper attribution).

      1. Of course, that’s a tweet, which is worth what you paid for it.
      2. No way of knowing the quality of people who are calling.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 4, 2015 at 11:14 AM

        I believe it was Bob Nightengale who tweeted about Dusty Baker’s phone ringing off the hook.

  2. philipd763 - Nov 4, 2015 at 9:40 AM

    If Baker was such a hot commodity, why was he unemployed for two years?

    • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:02 AM

      Because there are only 30 such jobs available. There are many qualified outstanding candidates who aren’t managing in the majors. That’s just the nature of the beast. What you can’t quarrel with is the fact that Dusty’s W/L record has been good throughout in 3 different places.

  3. philipd763 - Nov 4, 2015 at 9:43 AM

    With 87 year old Ted Lerner meddling in the GM’s affairs, is he becoming the Danny Snyder of the franchise?

    • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:12 AM

      He rights the checks, he has the right to be involved. Don’t kid yourself all owners want to be general managers. Have you seen the owner of the Cowboys?

      • Joe Seamhead - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        Or the O’s, Yankees, Reds, Caps, 49’s, Marlins, Astro’s, etc, etc. Owners play a huge part in the final say on managers with most teams. The Lerners may be greedy, but cheap may be a bit unfair.

      • Susanfaulkner - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:42 PM

        And that’s what’s wrong with the Cowboys!!

      • texnat1 - Nov 4, 2015 at 1:22 PM

        And the Cowboys have won 2 playoff games in about the last 2 decades with Jerry acting as GM. Whereas when they had Jimmy Johnson in that role they won 2 championships in about five years, and the team Johnson put together won another shortly after he left.

        So what is you point?

    • adcwonk - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:39 AM

      is he becoming the Danny Snyder of the franchise?….

      Uh, no. Not at all. Please compare the overall record of that pointy ball team since “The Danny” took over, to the record of the Nats since Rizzo took over.

      This is not even apples and oranges — it’s steak vs rotten vegetables.

      • nats106 - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:33 PM

        Ironically it’s Danny boy who’s willing to dole out the big dollars and guaranteed years for his coaches. You can’t run a program like a fantasy roster:

        Brian Mitchell for Deion Sanders anyone?

  4. langleyclub - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:07 AM

    Baker was not a hot commodity. He knew that this was his last shot to manage; so, he was will to take a 2 year contract. Will be interesting to see who he brings in as his coaches.

    The last year Baker managed, his pitching coach was Brian Price who now manages the Reds and apparently won’t be fired; so, Price is unavailable. Baker’s third base coach was Mark Berry; who was let go when Dusty was fired; it doesn’t appear that Berry is affiliated with any MLB team; so, he might be available. His hitting coach was Brook Jacoby, who is now the Jays hitting coach (not too shabby). So, Jacoby is likely unavailable. The 1st base coach was Billy Hatcher, who is still on the Reds staff, and will be the Reds 3rd base coach in 2016. Hatcher is unavailable.

    The only other two from Baker’s 2013 Reds staff that do not have current MLB coaching jobs are Chris Speier who is 65, and now has a front office job for the Reds, and Ronnie Ortegon, who left the Reds after Baker was fired, and he is now a minor league hitting coach for the Braves. Typically, MLB teams let their minor league coaches go if they have an MLB offer.

    So, it looks like Baker will not be able to bring in the many of those that coached with him in Cincy. The biggest issue will be who will be Baker’s pitching coach and bench coach.

    • Mrsb loves the Nats - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:13 AM

      I hope that Mark DeRosa can find a way back with the Nats…

      • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:25 AM

        I agree 100%. A perfect candidate for the bench coach position and a potential future manager.

      • Doc - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:38 AM

        Mark DeRosa, the last I heard, was with MLB Network. But yeah, a 1st rate baseball mind with a degree from Wharton. More likely FO type than dugout managerial material. Be nice to see him operate at some level in the game.

      • trfwans - Nov 4, 2015 at 11:10 AM

        If Mark DeRosa wants to be a bench coach he needs to pay his dues first. Manage in the minors, working his way up from A ball to AA to AAA, then be a low-level MLB coach, like bullpen coach. At this point Matt LeCroy has a better resume to be a bench coach than Mark DeRosa.

      • Dave - Nov 4, 2015 at 4:06 PM

        MLB Network is a placeholder job for athletes who are between engagements. I don’t think Mark DeRosa plans to work for MLB Network for the rest of his career.

        In recent years, Clint Hurdle, Dusty Baker, and many other managers, athletes, and executives have been ESPN commentators.

    • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:20 AM

      langley,

      Generally speaking the hire was received very well in most circles and by respected publications. The general consensus is that while not a great x’s and o’s manager Baker is a good clubhouse leader, players like him and play hard for him (direct opposite of MW) and he gets results. Issues such as lineup construction are valid but they are really not all that crucial, if you have good players and you throw 8 names into a hat and make out a lineup randomly your results won;t be dramatically different than if you create a perfectly suited, statistically proven lineup.

      I am pretty sure that Dusty has followed the ‘analytical revolution’ and my gut gut feeling is that he will bring in a bench coach who is comfortable with advanced stats. I agree with you that the pitching coach hire is absolutely crucial and a team should pay top dollar for that position. I think that based on the investment the Nats have in their pitchers, they are aware of the importance of this hire.

      • Joe Seamhead - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:26 AM

        Maybe Bud Black will be available for Dusty’s pitching coach. LOL!

  5. allquiet3022 - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:12 AM

    Werth has had “issues” with “other managers” plural? That would mean issues with BOTH Davey and Riggleman since they’re the only managers besides MW that Jayson has had here. I’m not aware of any issues he had with Davey and can’t remember any issues with Riggleman. If there were I’d love to be reminded of what they were. Davey used to chuckle about Werth “co-managing” but with Davey being one of the most self-confident people who ever suited up those never struck me as “issues”. From everything I could see Werth loved the guy. Werth had “issues” with players like Nyjer Morgan (thank God), but this seems like lazy stereotyping of Werth as some sort of prima donna or problem child. I’m not sure when the CW narrative started to turn that way but I’d make the case that Werth has been the reverse, his sub-par play in his new position notwithstanding.

    • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:24 AM

      lazy stereotyping is a very good description of what goes on here and in other similar sites. I think that the whole clubhouse problem issue is a product of an under-performing team and a manager whose competence level was not respected by his players. I think Baker will be fine.

      • Joe Seamhead - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:32 AM

        I always had the impression that Jayson didn’t hold Jim Riggleman in very high regard, nor Matt Williams. But I also think Werth played a big role in helping to weed out a couple of cancers in the organization.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:43 AM

        I seem to recall Werth being present at MW’s introductory press conference. And at least one other player was there as well, if I recall correctly. It will be interesting to see if anybody is there tomorrow.

      • natsfan1a - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:19 PM

        Not that I don’t respect your opinions, generally, jd, but that characterization just might fall into the “lazy generalizing” category. 😉

        “lazy stereotyping is a very good description of what goes on here and in other similar sites”

    • naterialguy - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:37 AM

      Werth undermined Riggleman which Riggleman in part felt was due his contract status.
      IMHO Werth has a little too much influence at times. Maybe it is time to make him a coach/player so he is seeing things from a managerial point of view and not independently.

      • adcwonk - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:41 AM

        Werth undermined Riggleman which Riggleman in part felt was due his contract status.

        That’s from Riggleman’s point of view. Did any other player have the point of view? (I’m not making an assertion, just asking the question)

      • kkpp3 - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:18 PM

        I remember Werth saying “something has got to change” which the press took to mean Riggleman had to go. . Werth denied he was talking about Riggleman.

    • nattyboh1 - Nov 4, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      http://www.natsenquirer.com/2011/05/jayson-werth-vents-frustration-vague-change.html

      I recall when these comments were made, it seemed like Werth was taking a dig at Riggleman. But that was just my impression. It might have been a bit early in the season for him to have turned on the manager, maybe he was talking about other players.

    • npb99 - Nov 4, 2015 at 11:47 AM

      I recall something about Werth having issues with Charlie Manuel in Philly. Don’t recall the source – for all I know, some commentor wrote it here.

    • voteforno6 - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:07 PM

      Tanner Roark was at the Williams press conference as well.

  6. Joe Seamhead - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    I have someone very close to me the was privy to a rather candid conversation with Jim Riggleman [over a couple of beers] regarding his feelings as to Werth. Suffice it to say there was every indication that there was no love lost there.

    • voteforno6 - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:08 PM

      Players and managers don’t have to get along to succeed. I’ve heard stories about the relationship, or whatever you want to call it, that existed between Earl Weaver and Jim Palmer.

      • Candide - Nov 4, 2015 at 1:39 PM

        Weaver famously said the secret to being a successful manager was to keep the half-dozen guys in the clubhouse who hate your guts away from the half-dozen guys who haven’t made up their minds yet.

      • virginiascopist - Nov 4, 2015 at 1:46 PM

        Great quote. I had heard it before, but forgot it was Weaver who said it.

      • mikeinviera - Nov 4, 2015 at 3:05 PM

        It was a great quote, but Weaver didn’t say it. Casey Stengal said it.

    • natsfan1a - Nov 4, 2015 at 12:14 PM

      The Caddies bartender, perhaps? (Kidding. Sort of.)

      • Joe Seamhead - Nov 4, 2015 at 3:33 PM

        No,it wasn’t at Caddies.

  7. Sonny G 10 - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    jd, thanks for all your comments above. Sure makes me feel a lot better about the hiring of Dusty Baker.

    • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 10:57 AM

      Sonny,

      To be fair Dusty wasn’t my 1st choice or 4th for that matter. I for one didn’t buy the need for an experienced manager. To me the key was to get a competent manager who is also a good people person and I was fine with getting someone younger more comfortable with looking at the game a bit more analytically. Someone like Alex Cora or Andy Green or Dave Martinez.

      Having said that and after some consideration and after reading what some experts have to say I have come to the conclusion that this was a good hire. Dusty may not move the needle too much with his in game decisions but I don’t think he’l move the needle in the wrong direction the way MW did.

      • Doc - Nov 4, 2015 at 11:19 AM

        I was looking for a manager who was a ‘people person’ type with an appreciation of analytics—sort of a younger Davey type.

        Dusty full fills the ‘people person’ type. I was thinking that Dave Martinez might be the one to do both.

      • jd - Nov 4, 2015 at 11:42 AM

        Doc,

        Me too.

      • rmoore446 - Nov 4, 2015 at 3:55 PM

        +!

  8. Greg White - Nov 5, 2015 at 4:16 AM

    Go nats!

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